Entry 41 – Algiers (Again)
Of all the events of the last couple of months, of all the roads taken, the way back to Algiers was by far the longest one. In retrospect, the voyage seemed doomed from the start, a great journey across the sea of dunes into the unknown. Perhaps we fancied ourselves the Argonauts of old on an odyssey, or perhaps we believed in fate or blind luck. Regardless, we found out the hard way that luck does not favor the bold – it favors the prepared, which we clearly were not. But how does one prepare for such a sandstorm?
The return was a sad affair. By the end we were a dozen men short with more resigning shortly thereafter. Ferguson, who once again met us all in person, handled the situation better than us of course, not having seen what we saw. She quickly organized a meeting of the entire force on the deck of our now-idle assault ship, tallied the losses and had us run an inventory check for the supplies we required. For her, calling the whole thing off was clearly not an option and since she was usually a very shrewd person who knew when to cut her losses, it must have meant the operation was directed from above her, most likely by Murdoch personally. In other words, there’s no going back.
That much was confirmed in the evening during a private get-together between me, Gail and Ferguson. We actually met on the cutter in captain’s quarters, far away from any prying eyes as the ship was anchored outside of the port. Most of the sailors were ashore for some much needed rest with only a skeleton crew manning the stations – a perfect opportunity for a discreet chat.
“So then,” asked Gail. “What’s the real status of things? Lay it on us,” she added, making herself comfortable with her chin by hand.
Ferguson suddenly looked more tired than ever before as she put her glasses down and rubbed her nose.
“I won’t lie to you. It’s not good and, what’s worse, it’s getting weirder by the minute. Your mission...”
She made another pause as if unsure how to express her thoughts.
“Haven’t you noticed anything weird the last couple of days? Something really off about the whole operation?”
Well, duh. People disappearing, sandstorms, insane AIs, a civil war... she’d have to be far more specific. This whole summer’s been nothing but a haunted house ride as far as I was concerned. She realized that too and decided to go straight to the point.
“As soon as you departed from Algiers, we started noticing traces of the same strange energy we’ve been tracking based on Legion’s data. All along your route. You reported the feeling of being watched, depression, nausea... sounds familiar?”
Gail’s eyes went wide.
“Yes,” Ferguson nodded. “We think so. Something is happening around you. Something we cannot explain. Yet.”
Well that was just fantastic. But it was about to get even better.
“That sandstorm you survived coincided with a massive energy spike.”
“So it was somehow... induced? Artificial?”
“Yes. And not just that, specifically targeted at you. In a way, it was even a blessing in disguise too. Of sorts.”
We both stared at her incredulously.
“Well,” she explained, “it allowed us not only to confirm our suspicion, but also the location in Sudan that seems to somehow be connected to the entire thing. Mister Murdoch insists that we investigate. Whatever resources Perihelion has at the moment were made available to us, this takes the highest priority. No matter the cost.”
Her tone was clear. We are all expendable, even Gail with her fantastic origin or I with my ‘uniqueness’.
“The energy is nothing like we’ve seen. Doctor Haswell thinks it’s potentially world-ending stuff.”
The thought sent a shiver down our spines, the video memory still relatively fresh in our minds. Ferguson concluded the meeting with:
“Doctor Az’dule will be joining you on the expedition. We’ll ship in reinforcements, new equipment, heavy weaponry and anything else you will ask for, if it is within our power. And when this is over, when the mission is completed...”
She gave me a piercing look.
“Samuel, you’ll be a very rich man. And Gail,” she turned towards her, “you’ll be free to do whatever you please and you’ll have full access to our databanks. No strings attached.”
Money, that I’d understand. But from what I knew about Gail, Ferguson’s offer meant one thing – Murdoch probably thought we wouldn’t able to cash in. We departed the ship in silence.